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The University is the most frequent violator of federal animal-abuse guidelines in the country, with 77 citations during a nine-month period, according to research watchdog group Stop Animal Exploitation Now.

SAEN reported that most of Penn's violations are in three areas: veterinary care; housing, facilities and sanitation; and institutional animal care and use committees.

"I'm very disturbed by [these] violations both in terms of the quantity of them and what I consider to be the very serious nature of them," said SAEN Executive Director Michael Budkie.

The SAEN Web site says that veterinary care inadequacies, one of Penn's most common violations, can range from expired drug use to "downright veterinary negligence."

USDA documents noted a piglet with a 10-inch abdominal hernia that did not receive any medical attention, despite the condition having been noticed by facility staff more than a week earlier.

Budkie said Penn's extraordinary 77 violations of the Act - second-place violator Harvard has only 32 - are likely the result of the size of the University's research programs.

The University has an annual sponsored research-project budget of about $750 million, according to the School of Medicine.

"They have more chances to violate the Animal Welfare Act simply because they have more animals," Budkie said.

But Regulatory Affairs Director Joseph Sherwin said research-facility-registration policies at Penn may artificially inflate Penn's number of violations.

Sherwin said that, whereas many research facilities and universities register each department - such as medical schools and veterinary schools - separately, Penn uses a single registration across all departments.

The USDA then totals its numbers based on that registration, giving Penn more violations that other schools, Sherwin said.

Sherwin added that reports from groups such as SAEN should be disregarded because these groups are fundamentally opposed to animal experimentation; they are not watchdog organizations that make sure institutions such as Penn are in line with federal regulation, as the USDA does.

Budkie verified that the eventual goal of SAEN "is the elimination of all animal experimentation" but added that this doesn't mitigate the severity of the University's violations.

Still, Sherwin's call to ignore the SAEN study is backed by the findings of another watchdog organization: AAALAC, Penn's research-accreditation group.

Sherwin said the group has given Penn full accreditation for its research studies since the 1980s and visited research facilities as recently as 2005.

University spokeswoman Phyllis Holtzman wrote in an e-mail that surveillance by organizations like the National Institutes of Health help keep Penn in check.

The NIH, the nation's preeminent sponsor for biomedical research studies, refuses grants when strict animal-care standards aren't met.

Holtzman added that Penn has its own review panel to oversee animal care and research procedures.

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